Distance Learning it Helped me Grow but Please No…

The best tools for blended and online learning that I have used or are aware of is Wacom, Zoom, Google meet, Kahoot, Edpuzzle, Remind, and Screencastify. When COVID-19 happened, we were forced to go online very quickly with a few tools and keep our students engaged and learning just like before. This was a huge undertaking. I survived but only because of a few wonderful tools. Zoom was a great way to still teach with some contact with students. Without scheduled classes, I think no work or fun would have occurred. The Zoom classes made it feel a bit more normal; we could still discuss, and students could ask questions but in the comfort of their home. I even did work out classes with the students over zoom for my Wellness 10 and Physical Education 9 courses. Through Zoom and Screencastify I made lesson videos for my math and science classes. It was great if students missed class or just wanted to go back and see how we worked through questions together; it was all there for them on google classroom. The Wacom tool made it possible for me to write like I do on the smart TV in the classroom. Therefore, we could work through problems in math as we always did and my videos reflected what it was like in the math classroom regularly. Collaboration and teamwork was more difficult though, as I couldn’t supervise the groups in breakout rooms well. I still use these videos on my google classroom. Some of them wouldn’t fully match my content as I adjust my program all the time but is so helpful for when students miss. The complete notes to how to work through questions never seems to be enough. Students have trouble figuring it out with out a visual or explanation. This type of independence seems to be rare hence the videos was a wonderful tool that came from the terrible COVID-19 pandemic. I learned about a lot of great online tools during the pandemic.

For assessment I used google forms and moodle multiple choice assessments, but also posted written assignments because it was hard to change it all to digital platforms. There was a lot of issues with cheating with certain assignments unfortunately. Photomath is a great tool to help you find answers and learn backwards but also a bad one for online education cheating. Google meet and remind kept parents and students informed about changes, reminders about assessments or to support students and guardians with the technology issues. Google meet was great for students to be able to access support from me and again I could use my digital writing tool to demonstrate how to do a task.

I mostly spoke about the positives and how these tools supported me through these difficult times, but how would I feel if I had to teach in this blended learning way or full online with Moodle through distance education? I would hate it. I didn’t like it during COVID and I wouldn’t like it now. Regardless of being more prepared if I were to do it again, it still removes my favourite aspect about my job. I enjoy interacting with students, discussing new ideas, debating, having conversations, building relationships, supporting them with the “hidden curriculum” and having fun. In my opinion I couldn’t do this at all in a full online platform and only partially in a blended online class format. Not only would I hate it, but as far as I learned through COVID it wasn’t beneficial for students either. I see many issues with online and blended learning for public education for grades K-12.  I mentioned a few times how some of the tools I used made it feel more normal, like we were in the classroom again. I was trying to recreate the classroom because this is the best place to help students be involved and excited about learning. Most students don’t have the maturity to stay focused, be involved in discussions, or complete assignments and learn in an online or Zoom class environment. There are a lot of distractions at home, and it was a lot easier for students to disengage. I am guilty of this myself. I would NEVER touch my phone in an in-person lecture in a university class. But I have in my online zoom classes.

Trust me, I tried to engage my students on zoom. Although, without parental guidance of getting students to school, a lot of students opted not to turn on their devices to sign into class. To foster engagement and get them to want to come to class, I tried Edpuzzle which takes youtube videos and allows you to pause them and ask multiple choice or discussion questions as you move through the video. I also used Kahoot for practice games before quizzes.

Students need, and most enjoy the face-to-face interaction in the classroom; online there is a lot of isolation and according to Martin and Bolliger these in-person interactions create a “dynamic sense of community”. The Edpuzzle videos I created during that time, I still use in the classroom to foster discussion. If that video with the questions was on an online moodle platform, the student could create their own opinions and ideas with those questions however it doesn’t give them the opportunity to hear other opinions or a new perspective.

I personally have an issue with the lack of movement and connection to our physical world due the technology shift in schools and not everyone has access to this technology! The government would have to provide all students with device and a proper wifi connection. Other funding is hard enough and I don’t think this will happen. Physical manipulatives and activities with peers foster appropriate relational knowledge and teamwork. There could be a similar activity online but then it is done individually on a school device. Learning with physical objects outside in the real world is a more authentic experience than virtually. If it is not possible to experience something in the real world due to funds, or distance or accessibility than virtual is the next best thing.

I don’t want to teach online and I think it is the best option for K-12 education but for graduate students it has shown to be a wonderful way for many people to increase their education. Those that don’t live by a university can continue working and going to school with this shift in remote learning. Martin and Bollinger said in one study student to student interactions were least important for graduate students and they preferred online communication tools. This makes a lot of sense, they have the maturity and drive to continue their education and engage as much as they need to be successful.

I would rather use every classroom management tool in the book to try to control an excited, chaotic, talkative, loud classroom than never get to discuss and just assess written work by students. Physical togetherness is better, and evolution has shown that is how people thrive.